Throughout twenty-fifteen my husband, Joshua, and I traveled through, some places with friends and some places with just each other, Michigan, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, California, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Colorado, Ontario and British Columbia; visiting over fifty National Parks, Forests, Monuments, Historical Sites and Seashores along the way.
We were absolutely honored to be able to photograph nineteen wedding/engagements, throughout Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and also in Chicago. It's always humbling to be part of one of the most life-changing days of someone's life and to participate in people's stories, starting with the birth of a brand new family on their wedding day.
This year, I was also honored to have my photography published by National Geographic three-times, and to be featured by several other professional publications, including Instagram.
I like to think of Instagram as my online journal, a place where I collect small thoughts and memories to come back to when I need to be inspired or when I need a grace reminder; I post one photo everyday, and accompany it with a caption. Most of the time, I just write what I am thinking or feeling in that very moment. A few Tuesdays ago, I wrote: "On this average December eighth Tuesday, I’m celebrating the extraordinary. Today, after opening two one-of-a-kind gifts—my eyes, I placed my bare feet on the cold hardwood floor in my bedroom and felt the frigid chill of the room temperature clutch my skin. I walked downstairs and made a hot cup of black Christmas blend coffee. As the coffee slowly brewed, the steam ascended to my nose, sparking my senses with the smell of sweet spices infused in blended aged Indonesian and Latin American beans. My eyes were fixated on the zebra-like shadows cast across the kitchen cabinets because of the window blinds on the right-side of the room. Then gripping the yellow mug, and warming my icy fingers, I walked into the dining room and turned-up the furnace. As heat rose from the basement, with Shauna’s book in hand, I sat down beside the vent on the light-brown carpeted floor and heard the pleasant sounds of crackling and pops coming from the shaft. As I read, I slowly sipped my morning beverage. Even though I drink a few cups every day, it still tasted fresh and new and exciting. This God-designed body is a miracle. Each sense, although separate, is connected. I closed my eyes, and all of the sudden, it’s not the calendar or the plans or the Christmas prep or the multitasking that is, in this moment, valuable. It’s the single task. It’s the task of just being. It’s the task of intentionally thinking about every small, seemingly average thing and celebrating its extraordinariness, its beauty and its poetry."
And that's what twenty-fifteen has been for me.
Circumstances have forced me to slow down; before this year, busyness controlled my life, almost every moment of everyday was planned out. If a friend wanted to meet for coffee, I'd have to schedule them two weeks in advance. I worked a lot. I was always tired. I was having stomach issues just from the stress. I wanted to focus on developing my love for photography (no pun intended!); but I was afraid to make the necessary changes to make it happen. Don't get me wrong, I did love my full-time job. The people I've met because of it will be lifelong friends, and now I also have invaluable experience and business skills that I'll never forget. The supervisors, now friends, poured their hearts into their employees, and entrusted the young, inexperienced to do amazing things. In the five years working with them, I was able to grow from a teenager to an adult--and for that, I couldn't be more grateful.
In March, changed swept in and took us all by surprise, opening doors and forcing us to face a lot of fears. The Board of Directors of the foundation where I worked, decided to relocate the office headquarters to San Antonio, Texas, and hire new, local staff. My husband, Joshua, had been struggling with his job as well, and was already in the process of searching for a new position. After a lot of prayer, we made a joint decision. Joshua resigned from his position, and using my severance, we chose to get away from the distractions of home and refocus our lives.
Taking-off in my little beat-up, rusty hatch-back eclipse (that was already encumbered by 320,000 miles), we tent-camped for months while we explored our continent’s natural wonders and hiked many mountains, but physically and spiritually. It was the craziest decision we’ve ever made; the 10,000-mile journey was life-changing. It was beautiful, but also hard and scary.
We could have been murdered by an insane trucker or shot in a campground in Oregon--we were literally faced with these situations, and many more. The eclipse broke down a few times and eventually we were forced to leave it behind in the Olympic peninsula. Almost every evening going to sleep in our tiny tent, I said , “we could have died today,” and then we would pray. God used every situation to bring us closer to Him, and closer together, teaching us both about day-by-day, and moment-by-moment trust. The journey was physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually life-changing, paving the way for this new chapter of our lives together.
After months of peanut butter and honey sandwiches, sleeping on the ground, and wonderfully living so much life on the road, we had to come home for Joshua's sister's wedding, (which I photographed). A week later, we hit the road again and fulfilled a promise to take two of my sisters to South Carolina for a week.
Joshua had a few weeks off, and then got a temporary job while he waited for another job to come through. Finally, after a seven-month process (the process started in February), he was selected for the position we had been praying about. After scoring $19 airfare, for one last hurrah, we went to Colorado for a week to hike the fourteeners for our third anniversary. Mostly, we spent the night in the back of the rental car (it was an ugly, lime green Kia Soul, but it was just the right size to squeeze in a single air mattress ;)). When we returned home, Joshua started his new job--which happens to be the best job he has ever had! I am now able to focus on photography full-time (again, no pun intended!).
God changed our lives, because not only were we afraid to make those changes on our own, we couldn’t make them on our own.
Off and on, I've struggled with finding meaning in the slow pace of my new life; but you know what? I feel rested, I no longer have stomach problems from stress, my schedule no longer controls me and I'm able to be creative EVERY SINGLE DAY. It's a gift.
In summary, I reflect back to something I penned over a year ago, before I knew the journey twenty-fifteen would hold: "Routines, like well-trodden trails, although safe and dependable, are void of adventure and the soul's need to exercise courage. Too often we settle into a day-to-day scheduled controlled, future planning life that revolve around catering to ourselves, when all along purpose is truly realized in abandoning ourselves. That's why I don't believe in having a "life plan," or even a "five year plan," or a real detailed plan for next year. Life happens and we need to get over ourselves and wake up to it. God is certainly not in our boxes; He holds the plan for the future, Not Joshua and certainly not me. Although God has definitely stressed the importance of being wise in budgeting our fiances, predetermining the size of our family or writing the steps for our future is not the way He is directing us to live the life He has given to us. I think what makes life exciting and precious is that in comes in stages that only God can author."
Day-by-day, even admittedly if it’s just in the back of our minds, we are reminded of God’s past faithfulness, so that we can look at present circumstances and even the future with expectant hope. We all need to completely trust Him. We can’t do that enough. We cling to the hope of this promise : “But [the time is coming when] the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”
A very happy New Year to you filled to the brim and overflowing in expect trust in our faithful, faithful God.
With much love,
Joshua and Eastlyn Tolle
The images below, both camera and iphone shots, are a collection of the places we saw, mountains we hiked, people we met and love-stories we were honored to experience.